I’m not exactly as bold as Socrates with my desire for self-reflection. My life is still worth living, even as I stumble through it mindlessly on many a day. But I do find deeper meaning in life when I take some time to reflect, examine and learn using some of the same principles and ideas that I embrace in my work with my other experiences. So what in my day to day life would benefit from some of this reflection? How can I integrate my goal of reframing into this process?
One way is to think more metaphorically, to help me make some meaningful connections and revelations. Metaphors are powerful tools. They help us to think about something familiar from a different angle, perhaps to gain a deeper perspective. We can often discover new meaning in the common experiences -making the ordinary, more extraordinary. How can I learn some deeper lessons and create more meaning from the ordinary in my life?
It hit me when I was out for a run this past weekend. (Now, I should probably clarify my definition of ‘run’. For those who know me, I am the fabled tortoise of the classic tale.) I took the winter off from running, in Maine snowshoeing and cross country skiing are more efficient modes of bipedal transportation. So this spring I am in the process of getting my running groove back. It could be a bit frustrating to start from the beginning, but I decided I would focus on the process and reflect on my progress. So I thought…
Running is a metaphor.
There are dozens of running philosophers you can follow, but for me I’ve contemplated a few ideas that shed some light on deeper truths for me in life. How is running like teaching and learning (life)? Here are a few thoughts.
“You get out of it what you put into it.” This is so true. My results are tied directly to my efforts, there are no cheats or ways around it. I can’t look for a quick fix. Teaching and learning is the same way-our results correlate with our efforts. There are no easy answers for education reform, we know it is a lot of hard work over time that will yield results. To get stronger and better you need to push yourself, out of your comfort zone. This isn’t always pleasant, but when you can see the results and understand their direct link, the process becomes a welcome challenge. We can help our students see the reward and benefit of moving out of that comfort zone when they can see results. There is no progress without effort.
“Do the best with what you’ve got.”- I do not have the body of Joan Benoit Samuelson, but I did run a marathon once. She could have run several marathons in the time it took me to run mine-but it was my best and I did it with what I had. The pride she felt when she was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the event must have been comparable to the sense of accomplishment and pride I experienced crossing that finish line. When we know we have done our best, THAT should be our measure of success. Not all of our students will cross the finish line of their education at the same pace, but if we help them to do their very best with what they have-we will have been successful.
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”- We can always find excuses to avoid the hard work we need to put in. For running, it is weather or aches or road conditions. For education it might be kids who aren’t ready, curriculum that isn’t great, books that are outdated, students who are unmotivated, parents who don’t care, etc. We need to realize the conditions for what they are and then do our jobs in light of those factors. Face the conditions, prepare for the conditions and then (sorry Nike) JUST DO IT. We’ll never get the perfect class, the perfect assessment system, the perfect standards-they are mythical. Stop waiting, start doing.
It never gets easier, you just get better. Sorry, for those of you who are waiting for the day when teaching becomes easier. If you want to be the best you can be, you never settle for easy. To continue to grow you need to push yourself, try new things, face new challenges. In running you move faster or run further or try new courses. In teaching you read more books, take more classes, try new lessons-you become a leader. Now don’t get disheartened-it shouldn’t be HARD all the time in life or in running. But if you get to the point that you can just ‘phone it in’, you might want to hang up!
Motivation is what gets you started, habit is what keeps you going. Lots of people jump off the couch and lace up their shoes, determined that this is the year they are getting into shape. The motivation is invigorating and exhilarating. Sadly, motivation isn’t enough to sustain the hard work, tough conditions, injuries, setbacks and strain that can come with running. The school year is like that. We all begin so excited with possibilities and motivation. It’s hard, but we have the energy and we are determined to build stamina. As the newness wears off and the year moves on, we need to draw on more than motivation to sustain us. That’s when the strong habits we have built kick in and keep us on track. We set ourselves up for success. We prioritize our time and energy to make it easy to work out or create those lessons. Creating the conditions that fosters success is critical, because we will all face setbacks, fatigue and disappointment that will zap our motivation. I remember a quote I once heard that nails it, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It’s as true for running as it is for life.
Nothing worth having comes easy. If running were easy, we wouldn’t see so many cars on the way to work. Everyone can appreciate the effort it takes to run, whether it is a mile or a marathon. We are in awe of those who make it look so easy. We wouldn’t be in awe if it WERE so easy. That’s what makes it special. That’s what brings about an incredible sense of accomplishment when you simply finish a race and not just if you win it. We don’t pat ourselves on the back for sitting in a chair, it’s not an achievement we take satisfaction in. It’s the choices we make that require effort that provides us with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Remember that when it gets hard, and take time afterward to appreciate that effort before moving onto the next thing in your busy life.
Step. Breathe. Step. Breathe… Every run is a series of steps. You can increase your pace, but you can never take more than one at a time. That’s why there are moments when running is meditative (not to be confused with relaxing). Runners can focus in on their breath, and the beat of a footstep to create a zen-like state. You can focus your energy inward and truly be ‘in the moment’ at times. Your life may seem to move fast, but it’s never more than one step at a time. When we find opportunities to focus our attention to the step we are taking, tasks seem more manageable, stress seems less intense, pain seems more tolerable. We don’t have to carry the burden of the entire journey in that moment. We can breathe in new air to refresh the oxygen supply to our cells. We can breathe new ideas, energy and life into our tired bodies as well. We can breathe out the carbon dioxide the way we can we can breathe out toxic thoughts, anxieties and perceptions. Each breath we take refreshes and cleanses our bodies. Don’t forget to breathe!
I’m sure I could think of many more analogies for running and life/learning. The idea isn’t to overload, but to offer up some food for thought. Maybe your aren’t a runner. It might not be your thing. My point is that we often go through life without much thought on the lessons waiting for us to notice. Running may not offer you lessons, but there are choices you make in your life and things that you do that are waiting to teach you- to help you grow.
So to you I would ask, what IS your thing? What is YOUR metaphor?
What’s On My Book Radar?
For anyone who has contemplated running, but didn’t think it was your thing. You might want to check out “The Penguin” (John Bingham)’s book The Courage To Start. He writes a monthly column in Runner’s World and has been a huge inspiration for many Couch to 5K enthusiasts. He took up running at age 43 with a simple jog down his driveway. This book might be just the inspiration you need to try something new in life. It could be YOUR new metaphor!